After the long summer marathon in which I re-read the first four books of GRR Martin's saga, I finally tackled the long-awaited fifth book and finished it yesterday.
It's difficult to say how I feel about it: the long months of full immersion in the realms of Westeros left me a little unsettled, as if I just woke up from a convoluted dream and were still trying to regain a foothold in the normal flow of life. There's a part of me that needs different "pastures" for the brain to explore, and another that's longing for more of that story.
It was a satisfying read, of course, the thousand-odd pages a welcome find after the six years long drought between this book and the previous one: several questions on the whereabouts of a few characters, totally absent in A Feast for Crows, were answered; new characters were added to the mix and older ones were presented in a different light, making me change my mind about them. GRR Martin often surprises us with these turnarounds, and it's one of the marks of how good a writer he is.
Yet it was not an "easy" read: the first half of the book suffered a little from the slowness many perceived in Book 4. These events ran in parallel with the story-arc of A Feast for Crows, so the feeling of having gone back and retraced one's steps must have been responsible for this sensation.
Once the story picked up again toward further developments, though, the pace did not greatly improve and the feel that some of the characters had lost momentum became too strong to ignore.
Daenerys is the one who suffers from this "illness" more than most: after having stormed through Slaver's Bay and taken over city after city, she stops at her last conquest, Meereen, and here she seems to get frozen in amber. Or rather, to be wading through molasses. Only toward the end of the book something changes - finally! - but we are left in the lurch thanks to a massive cliff-hanger. Thank you very much, Mr. Martin!
Something similar happens to other beloved characters, like Tyrion, or Jon: their last pages see them on the brink on something, with no clear indication of what will happen next. That is all right, of course: readers must be left hungering for more - it's a law of story-telling, and also a sound commercial tactic… But did we really need to suffer through pages and pages in which *nothing* happened at all to get to this point? I'm not too sure.
I've often read that sagas suffer from "sagging-middle syndrome", and ASOIAF seems no different: I hope that the next two books, which should see the conclusion of this huge story, will get back to the breath-taking, blood-racing pace of the first three instalments. It would be sad if this particular mountain were to give birth to a puny mouse, after all…